Art law News USA

Rauschenberg Foundation fights decision on trustee fees

The artist’s foundation will appeal judge’s $24.6m award to trustees

A legal battle has reignited between the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and three of the late artist’s friends and business associates. The foundation yesterday appealled a Florida judge’s decision to award the trustees of the Robert Rauschenberg Revocable Trust a fee of $24.6m.

The trustees originally sued the foundation in 2011, arguing that their “extraordinary services” in administering the trust entitled them to a “reasonable fee” of $51m to $55m. (Between Rauschenberg’s death in 2008 and the transfer of his assets to the foundation in 2012, the estate’s value increased by nearly $1.6bn, the trustees claimed.) For its part, the foundation argued that the trustees deserved far less—$375,000—and claimed that the larger sum would cripple its ability to do charitable work.

A Florida judge decided on 1 August that “the evidence at trial supports a finding that the trustees did an exemplary job”. The $24.6m award is to be divided among three trustees: Bennet Grutman, the artist’s accountant, Darryl Pottorf, Rauschenberg’s companion and the executor of his will, and Bill Goldston, Rauschenberg’s partner in a print publishing company.

Christopher Rauschenberg, the artist’s son and the chairman of the board of the foundation, told The New York Times last year: “If a judge says $60m is fair, we’ll put it behind us and continue with the charitable stuff.”

The foundation filed an appeal yesterday in Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal to ask a judge to reconsider the decision, however. The trustees’ attorney, Michael Gay, says his clients are “extremely disappointed” by the foundation's actions. "Instead of accepting the decision of a well-respected, disinterested judge, the foundation seems determined to continue wasting its resources through an appeal,” says Gay, an attorney at Foley and Lardner, LLP.

In a statement, Christopher Rauschenberg highlighted the organisation’s ongoing charitable efforts. In the next few months, the foundation plans to announce a new round of grants, launch a program for emerging curators, and begin a new cycle of artist residencies at his father’s former home in Captiva Island, Florida. “All of these activities demonstrate how we are able to use our resources for the good of the arts community,” Rauschenberg said.

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18 Aug 14
17:23 CET


I don't question that the Trustees did an exemplary job. I do question their final bill which was based on a percentage of the value of the estate three years after the artist's death. Putting aside whether such a "commission" is proper (I don't think it is), I cannot understand how an estate valued at $606M came to be worth 3 1/2 times that in such a short period. Although the decision does not address this, I am lead to wonder if this current $3.2B valuation was made not because the work increased in value so much as that many more works were subsequently included. Rauschenberg was nothing if not prolific. Imagine conducting an inventory with all those editions, photographs… thousands. Was the estate simply remiss in omitting some property originally? Is there a discrepancy between the number of works in the original estate and this more recent assessment. If so, was that taken into account and how was it reconciled? Maybe this aspect of the case needs clarification.

16 Aug 14
17:47 CET


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